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Project-based Learning in Engineering Design Education: Sharing Best Practices

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Design Across the Curriculum

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1016.1 - 24.1016.18



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Paper Authors


Aruna Shekar Massey University

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Dr Aruna Shekar is a senior lecturer in product development at the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand. She has lectured in the areas of product innovation processes, methods, and management since 1994. Prior to this she worked for Cadbury Shweppes, Australia, and Telecom in New Zealand. She has won awards (a gold medal for her master's) and presented at national and international conferences. In 2003 she received her Ph.D. in product development from Massey University and has supervised several postgraduate students. She has lead several research and consultancy projects and received external grants for industrial projects. Aruna has coordinated the collaborative product-development projects with industry for several years. She is a foundation board member of the Product Development & Management Association in New Zealand ( and part of the Innovationz group, a team of researchers funded by the New Zealand government to help local manufacturers enhance their product-development practices. She is passionate about fostering creative and innovative thinking, and providing project-based learning opportunities in product development education.

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Educating Engineering Students: Building Problem Solving and Innovation Skills through ProjectsResearch and new trends in engineering education clearly emphasise the importance ofpractical application of theory, creativity and innovation as key skills required for problemsolving. The world has changed rapidly in the last decade and major changes such asglobalisation, technological advances, inter-connectedness, and accessibility to informationinfluence the way current and future generations of students learn. Educators are finding itchallenging to fit in new material into a full curriculum in a timely manner. Research withindustry professionals indicates that they require graduate students to be able to thinkcritically, analyse problems, create innovative solutions and communicate effectively. TheInstitute of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) have stated that “There is a needfor professional engineering graduates who are “rounded” and not just technical boffins -many of the existing graduates do not have strong “soft” skills. Graduates entering industryhave technical knowledge that is largely theoretical, and industry needs to investconsiderably to close off the knowledge gap between principles as taught and codifiedknowledge as used in industry.” There is a need to transform the way 21st century studentsare educated and prepared for their future professional work.Project- based learning (PBL) is a successful approach that addresses some of thesechallenges and needs. The PBL method of learning and teaching requires a new mindset anda change of role for both students and teachers. Students are active learners and are involvedin hands-on activities, while teachers are facilitators who provide guidance to students, andencourage students to think and work through the problem situation. The author and hercolleagues have found that this method increases student motivation, and allows them toapply their theoretical knowledge in an interactive environment, where they discuss conceptswith each other and also with staff. Students learn to research and define the problem clearly,explore the solution space for more than a single solution, learn to iterate and improve theirdesigns to develop an appropriate solution that meets the objectives. Students learn the keyskills of problem solving progressively, starting with simpler applications through to morecomplex problem solving. A comparison is made of this progression in learning byexamining the three best reports from each course, starting in semester one, through tosemester three. In addition to these reports, student logbooks, reflection on practice,classroom observations and student interviews by staff have provided evidence of studentlearning.Based on a review of the literature, experience in project-based teaching, and feedback fromstaff and students, a number of specific recommendations are made on educating students onthe key design and practice skills required for the future. These best practices are relevant tomany engineering disciplines and can be applied to most subjects across the curriculum.Massey University has run PBL courses in product development engineering for severalyears, and has recently expanded this method to include all of the engineering disciplines.This allows for problem solving by a team of multi-disciplinary students. International 1projects were also included for all first year engineering students, through the Engineerswithout Borders (EWB) organisation. As a result of doing these courses, students have statedthere is an increase in their confidence in making decisions and a better understanding of howengineering principles relate to real-world problem solving. The presentation will cover: thecriteria for successful PBL, the benefits of this style of learning alongside traditionaltheoretical courses, assessment methods, recommendations, and also provide evidence of thelearning of key concepts through a range of practical examples. 2

Shekar, A. (2014, June), Project-based Learning in Engineering Design Education: Sharing Best Practices Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22949

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